Anthony Morris Frederick Abrahams
- 506Wallaby Number
Tony Abrahams was an athletic lock forward who played three Test for the Wallabies but is just as well remembered for his leading activist active role in the anti-apartheid movement that famously promoted a boycott of the 1971 Springbok tour. Widely condemned at the time, along with fellow players Jim Boyce, Paul Darveniza, Terry Forman, Barry McDonald, Jim Roxburgh and Bruce Taafe, Abrahams proved to be a man well ahead of his time.
As a footballer, Abrahams impressed as a vigorous front of the lineout jumper with a safe pair of hands and a resolute dedication to training. Born in Sydney, Abrahams attended Cranbrook School where he played in the school’s 1st XV and Associated Schools’ 1st XV in 1962. After graduation Abrahams entered the University of Sydney and undertook an Arts/Law degree. He played his club rugby for the University under three very influential coaches - Dick Tooth, John Solomon and David Brockhoff.
In 1964 Abrahams made his senior representative debut for New South Wales against Queensland but spent the next few seasons biding his time behind incumbent Wallaby locks Peter Crittle and Rob Heming. In 1967, Abrahams partnered John Weber in the middle row for Sydney when they crushed Ireland 30-8. That performance earned Abrahams a Test debut in Wellington to celebrate the 75th Jubilee of the New Zealand Union where he opposed All Black legend Sir Colin Meads. New Zealand critics considered that Abrahams, as one of six Test debutants, had “stood up valiantly to the power of the New Zealand forwards in the lineout.”
In 1969 Abrahams became concerned about the morality of touring South Africa after the Basil D’Oliveira Affair a year earlier had focused world attention on the discrimination against non-white sportsmen through the Apartheid policy. Abrahams took advice from his peers to ‘go and see it first’, made himself available for the tour and was duly selected. He spent much of his free time meeting, observing and interviewing black South Africans and white opposition figures and understanding the plight of blacks in the republic. Abrahams quickly made his position clear by the time of the fourth match of the tour against Rhodesia when he chose to take a personal stand against Prime Minister Ian Smith’s regime and asked not to be selected for the match.
In the final days on tour, from which he did not to return to Australia with the team but hitch-hiked through Africa on his way to England, Abrahams wrote a letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. The letter, headlined ‘South Africa and Sport’, was published on October 8 and generated much discussion and opinion about the nation’s racial discrimination policies. The other six players agreed that while they were not political activists they had a ‘moral responsibility’ to oppose apartheid. In May of 1970 an opportunity presented itself to speak out. Geoffrey Robertson, the future Queens Counsel and international human-rights barrister, was also the editor ofBlackacre, the journal of the Sydney University Law Society. Robertson invited the Wallabies to be interviewed about their time in South Africa. The article that resulted from the interview, ‘Political Football’, also published in The Australian (21/05/70), was a definitive catalyst for the organised opposition to the 1971 Springbok tour. The players then wrote to the Australian Rugby Union and confirmed what they had told Robertson: if selected, they would not play against the Springboks. Prior to the Springbok arrival, Abrahams returned from France to undertake a two-month tour across Australia to voice his opposition of the tour and a call for a sporting boycott with South Africa. Despite his efforts, the Springbok tour went ahead.
The following year, the newly elected Federal Labor government, headed by Gough Whitlam, suspended sporting contact with South Africa and invoked sanctions against the Republic that stood until 1990. “The Rugby Seven” as they had become known, were later hailed as the “Magnificent Seven” after it was recognised that a direct line could be traced from their actions, to the referendum that marked the end of apartheid in 1994. Their deeds were honoured when South African President Nelson Mandela bestowed upon them the Medal of Freedom.
Anthony Abrahams played three Tests for Australia in a three-year international career. In 2020 Abrahams received Membership in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to Law.
Abrahams won his first Test cap at lock alongside Ross Teitzel in the 9-29 loss to New Zealand at Athletic Park.
He won his second cap in tandem with Peter Reilly in the 1st Test, 11-27 loss to New Zealand in Sydney. Although selected for the second Test at Ballymore, Abrahams was forced to withdraw with a knee injury and Stuart Gregory took his place. That knee injury kept him out of the one-off Test against France. Finally he declared himself unavailable for the short tour of Ireland and Scotland at the end of the year in order to complete his final year law exams.
Abrahams started at lock, again with Reilly, in the 16-19 defeat to Wales at the S.C.G.